At Ephesoft, we take innovation seriously. That is why we named our user conference “Innovate.” (This year’s event runs Oct. 16-19 in Irvine, CA.) But innovation is more than just a slogan for us: it is an important focus in our product development.
When the company was launched in 2010, my goal was to introduce innovation into a document capture industry that had stagnated. At the time, the only new product releases were basically facelifts. The largest vendors were adding a feature here and there—maybe introducing a new UI. They were making incremental updates, but not doing anything revolutionary.
With Ephesoft, I wanted to do something revolutionary. That’s why we built our software on a Java platform, so we could serve Linux as well as Windows customers. We also launched with a 100% browser-based UI because we realized that was the wave of the future, especially as more applications move to the cloud. And our pricing was based more on subscription fees than counting images like most of the legacy capture vendors. A combination of all these things offered a big leap in the way document capture could be deployed in the enterprise.
At that point, you think I would have been celebrating what we had accomplished. But, then the nightmares started. Yes, Ephesoft had out-innovated all the other capture vendors. But, I started to worry, what if somebody was to do the same thing to us? How could I prevent that from happening?
The solution I came up with was to create a company-wide policy—involving not just the product development team, but also the salespeople and sales engineers—that we would release some sort of innovative document capture technology every two years. If we could come up with something new every two years, I thought, I could put an end to my nightmares.
So far, we have been successful. In 2012, we came out with RESTful APIs that enable our technologies to be deployed as microservices, creating what I call atomic functionality. Two years later, we married Web services with mobile devices to enable people to turn their phones into document scanners. Approximately two years later, we came out with Ephesoft Insight, which leverages Big Data technologies to enable users to perform classification, extraction, and data analytics on very large document repositories.
The Dynamics of Invention
Coming up with the directive to do something innovative every two years, I was influenced by two ideas. The first came from a conference that I attended a few years back where several successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs spoke. One of the ideas presented was that when a company reaches 100 employees, it needs to take out the people who created the first product and have them invent something new. I thought that was a great idea, except that I think 100 is too high a number these days because technology and innovation is moving much faster than when that conference was held. At first, I thought maybe 50 employees was the right number, but then decided two years was a better metric for our company to follow.
The second influence came from advice on what companies should do after they enjoy some success with their initial product and it matures into a platform. At that point, you can’t change your product drastically because your install base is too large. So, you end up making improvements by adding features based on customer requests. But then all you are doing is adding on to your platform, not building anything new. I always want Ephesoft to be working on something new.
That’s what Insight is, for example. We picked Hadoop and Apache Spark as the platform and built something from scratch. There were no constraints related to our existing platform. That’s the only way you can truly invent something. And if you hit on the right invention, you might come up with something that can change the world. That is the approach we want to take.